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Muetze and Gopalan win NSF CAREER awards

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor Annette Muetze and Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Padma Gopalan its Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER). The NSF CAREER awards, among the most prestigious given to faculty members who are just beginning their academic careers, are granted to creative projects that integrate research and education effectively.

Annette Muetze

Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor Annette Muetze (15K JPG)

Muetze's research holds promise for better design and optimization of traction motors. Traction motors are the workhorse system for converting electricity to motion or motion to energy. Where current is employed to create motion, chances are a traction motor is doing the work. So common are these systems that even a small gain in efficiency can result in dramatic energy savings and environmental gains. Industry continues to find new uses for traction motors and is demanding more reliability and efficiency from them under a wider range of operating conditions. New drive topologies and materials are having an impact on the design of machines and actuators. Integration of modern optimization and design techniques is urgently needed to fully take advantage of these systems.

Muetze will use her five-year, $399,000 grant to apply modern mathematical optimization techniques to finite element analysis-based design of electromechanical energy converters. Her modeling and problem formulation will exploit convex characteristics that play an important role in global optimization. Muetze will employ these techniques to create streamlined, reliable, and highly efficient design, bringing forth a significant saving of expenses related to sub-optimal energy consumption of traction motors and their design methods. In addition, Muetze will integrate these modern design techniques into the on-campus and off-campus power-engineering education at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Her methodology will include development of web-based learning tools, literature-based learning, and small-group-based projects. Muetze earned her PhD from Darmstadt University of Technology in Germany in 2004 and joined the College of Engineering faculty the same year.

Padma Gopalan

Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Padma Gopalan (24K JPG)

Materials Science and Engineering Assistant Professor Padma Gopalan will apply her $445,000, five-year grant to research, education and outreach on nanostructured polymer composites with electroactive molecular subunits. Nanostructured materials are a unique class of materials with wide-ranging applications in drug-delivery systems, nanoelectronics, electro-optics, and photonic band-gap materials. Gopalan's work investigates the structure-property relationship in electro-optic materials, which can control the speed of light through electric-field-induced changes in their index of refraction.

Electro-optical materials are important to applications such as fiber-optic data transmission, analog video transmission, and millimeter wave signal generation. Electro-optic polymers offer unique possibilities for complete opto-electronic integration and efficient, flexible, active optical devices. Electro-optic activity is enabled through blending a non-linear optical chromophore with a polymer host, and applying an electric poling field to impose orientational order on the dipolar chromophores. Although such polymers can be made today, there is little fundamental understanding of the interface between the chromophore and polymer host. Gopalan has proposed a systematic approach to controlling the morphology of the material through chemical design and correlating the morphology to observed activity. These studies will provide basic information on rational design of next-generation electro-optic materials. As part of the project, Gopalan will create an educational and outreach program that will incorporate her work into the undergraduate instructional laboratories, including creating a polymer course in the department with a major emphasis on nanostructured electronic polymers. This course will educate materials engineers on the chemical design aspects of a polymeric material and the correlation between structure and observed properties. An extended outreach program will be aimed at female high-school students and minority colleges, including improved materials-science training of high-school students and teachers, and mentoring female graduate and undergraduate students.

An industry outreach effort will include educating materials engineers on the chemistry of polymeric materials and broader dissemination of research on nanostructured materials. Gopalan received her PhD in chemistry from Cornell University in 2001. She also served as a postdoctoral fellow at Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies from 2001-2003. She joined the college's faculty in 2003.